I was talking with a reporter yesterday about the writing process; she had brought me a first draft that she thought was awful and she needed to talk it through. She worried that she had suddenly lost her ability to write, the piece was crap and should just be deleted, and she should quit her job before she was discovered for the fraud she was, maybe just slink out the back door and go get a job in PR. If they even wanted her. Which they might not. Because her work was crap.
Ah, I've never felt that way, have I, about my own work? Ah, only about a million times. It's hard getting that first draft out, but that's the hard part; once you do, you have something to play with. Material. Clay. And then the fun part begins--mixing it up, deleting ugly lines, reworking the ending, coming up with a completely different lede.
The reporter and I talked about her story, and we talked about clarity of language and cliches, and we both agreed that she had good material, she just had to feel it more deeply and let that feeling suffuse her writing. We talked about her theme, and how she could bring it out more sharply, and how she might want to open the piece to reflect that theme.
And then, happy, she went back to her desk to do all the hard work of rewriting, and I went back to dozing at my desk, waking up only briefly to eat another bonbon and file my nails. When she's done, it'll be a great piece, and I plan to take full credit for it, as editors are wont to do.
The writing process. It's fascinating to me, all the different ways that different writers work. Remember those Paris Review interviews with authors? Truman Capote couldn't write if there were yellow roses in the room. Thomas Wolfe wrote standing up, with his yellow pad on top of the refrigerator because he was so tall, and just threw the completed pages into a box, one by one. The re-writing and re-working of his first drafts was pretty much left to his editor, Max Perkins, editor of genius.
I've been thinking about this because Patience-Please left a comment on an earlier post of mine suggesting that I might not want to rework any of "Hack" until I have the whole first draft written.
She wrote: It was helpful to me to get through the whole first draft, rewriting as little as I could stand, and then go back and rewrite to my heart's content.
Wow. I could never work that way; never. For me, the writing process has always been writing and rewriting simultaneously. When I get stuck on forward progress, I go back to the beginning to see where I came from. It helps me to see where I'm going.
It's always two steps forward, then back. Then forward. Then back. It keeps my head in the whole piece, I think. And I am never, ever, ever done rewriting. (Sunday's post about winter air--I think most of you had already read it and commented before I figured out what was clunky about my final line and went back and rewrote it.)
What's your process? First draft straight through? Or rewrite as you go? No yellow roses? Lots of yellow roses? First thing in the morning? At Starbuck's, late at night? Anybody else write on top of their refrigerator?
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